Practice makes perfect

Worried about freezing when you present? Presentation advice

Stage Fright-01I was working with a group of (London) city professionals last week. Building a pitch for a piece of new business. One of the team asked me a great question.

How do I stop myself ‘freezing’ when I’m speaking?

She was an excellent presenter. Engaging, warm, knowledgeable and very well prepared. She asked me a simple, direct question and I gave her the same kind of answer back.

Write much less and rehearse much more

She looked at me as if I was crazy. But I kind of forced her and the team through the process over the next 2 days. Here’s what we did…

  1. We clarified the point of the presentation- to show the client what they’d get (Cost reductions of £2m plus over three years- concrete, tangible deliverables)
  2. We sketched out the story in general terms (Attention grabbing headline, context and background, options, choices, dilemmas; recommendations, prices, action)
  3. Then rather than have people write their script, I made them rehearse out loud; from inarticulate hesitancy to unscripted fluency in about an hour of ‘do it, do it again’ type repetition.

The reason why people ‘freeze’ is because they’ve written their words out and have memorized them.  This leads to blind reliance on one version of what you want to say. Forget where you are, get asked a question, lose your track and that’s when you freeze.

She was brilliant on the day.


Jim Harvey

Jim Harvey

Managing Director at The Message Business
Jim is the MD of The Message Business, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.
Jim Harvey


  1. Craig Hadden – Remote Possibilities

    June 29, 2013 at 9:57 am

    That’s great advice Jim, and very timely for me. I come from a writing background, so I tend to write out what I hope to say, then reduce it to a list of single keywords and try to memorise those. I struggle to remember it all though, and so my delivery and engagement suffers. I’m trying to switch to a more fluid style that’s less focused on the words.

    I really like how terse your line is: “Write much less and rehearse much more.” That’s one for the quote book!

    Big contrast between your advice and Chris Anderson’s from TED though (as recently published in HBR) – they get speakers to memorise their 18-minute talks verbatim, although he says they work with people for at least 6 months! (Mind you, he did say if you haven’t time to memorise your speech, don’t try to!)

    A while back I wrote a post about speaking confidently, which featured a couple of videos. (At the bottom’s a clip of Rick Perry’s famous freeze from a political debate a few years ago.) I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the 6 tips in that post:

    I think I need to heed my own tips!

    • Jim Harvey

      July 8, 2013 at 12:03 am

      Hi Craig, thanks for the excellent and thoughtful comment. I’ll read your post and reply. Regards Jim

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